When the roses bloom

Marooned , Howard Pyle (1909) | Oil on canvas, 40 x 60 inches.  Delaware Art Museum .

Marooned, Howard Pyle (1909) | Oil on canvas, 40 x 60 inches. Delaware Art Museum.

Sea birds swoop overhead, shadows in the ochre sky. Waves pull back, retreating from the shore as if to shame the figure slumping over the sand. Here, a man sits; an empty bottle nearby, traces of rum line his unshaven jaw. His navy coat is strewn across the land, lost to the depths of the earths. A red bandana sleeps on his head buried deep into his scarlet chest. Here, a man sits, swallowed by guilt, branded by sin. Here, a captain mourns the loss of his ship, himself to blame.

The honourable, he is no more.

Here, on a sun-kissed beach, moments before the golden sun starts to slip into its slumber, a man sits. His navy coat is strewn across the land, lost to the depths of the earth - no more than a mere shadow. As the caw of sea birds sound overhead, the man picks up a bottle with his grubby hand and fits his gaping maw over the lip, devouring the last of his rum. Throwing the empty bottle onto the seashell-covered sand - now lined with fragments of broken glass - he buries his disheveled head deep into his carmine-clothed chest. Swallowed by guilt and branded by sin, the oceanic breeze tingles the back of his sunburned neck as he mourns the loss of his ship, himself to blame. 

Here, in a parlour of porcelain, overlooking a fruitful garden, a woman sits. Her delicate fingers frivolously play with the neckline of her chemise, awaiting a partner, as she stares longingly out into the garden at the rose bush - bare. For three months, he has not written, nor has she received any word. A single tear, she does not allow to tarnish her skin of ivory. Every day the woman sits, overlooking the garden, in an armchair of pristine rosewood - an engagement gift - awaiting his return.

Lady with a Corsage , Edmund C. Tarbell (1911)

Lady with a Corsage, Edmund C. Tarbell (1911)

Six months earlier.

“My love, when will you return?”

Her eyes as dark as ebony stare wistfully into his of azure. Tucking a loose strand of curled hair behind her ear, he pulls her in once again in a firm but tender embrace. He breathes in, taking in her scent - a blend of rose petal and orange blossom - for one last time. Breaking the slight space between them, he whispers in her ear. His husky voice encompasses her with warmth and security. Her eyes close as she blinks away drops of tears, memorizing the tonality of the voice that she so loves. Out from her bag, she delicately draws out a silk scarf, scarlet in colour, and ties it around his wrist.

“So you will not forget me. Remember, you have my heart.”

He presses his forehead against hers for a brief moment, until the ships sound, pulling them apart. By the dock, a grinning sailor in navy clothes approaches, excited for the journey ahead. The sailor beckons the man and proceeds to speak to him.

“Whenever you’re ready, captain.”

With a salute, the sailor promenades proudly towards a large wooden ship sleeping on the bay, the sun peeking through the masts - a beautiful sight for the eyes. With one final kiss, the man follows the foot of the sailor, people saluting him on his way. He is the honoured. The touch of her lips lingers on his own as he takes the wheel and heads off into the uncertainty of the sea. Waving farewell, watching the ship disappear through the mist, she recalls the last words her beloved had said to her:

“When the roses bloom, I will return.”

Three days earlier.

Traces of rum line his unshaven jaw as he scrambles to his cabin - an unsightly sight for a man of his stature. Ripping open his stash of rum, the man throws himself onto his bed, a bottle in hand. The hat of a captain that once sat proudly atop his head discretely slips off and is caught by a gale of wind as he lies there, drunkenly asleep, leaving nobody but a novice sailor’s hand at the wheel. He hears neither the cracking of the wood nor the screams of terror and desperation that echo across the churning waters. Amidst the shadows of the battleship-grey clouds looming overhead, beams of lightning fill the sky, striking the ship, as thunder booms throughout the territory. The only thing that awakens him is the loosening of her scarf. He jolts up to grab the scarf just before it floats away into the sea of chaos. In that moment, he notices the pale bodies of his comrades slowly sinking, swallowed by the depths of the sea. Shoving the last of his rum into a sack and tying the scarf around his head in place of his hat, he dashes towards the only lifeboat left intact on the ship, stumbling past bodies and ignoring cries of help. A ruthless captain, he is, with alcohol seeping through his veins - conscience clouded, judgment lost. His own survival is the only thing that generates a care in his heart; his own survival for his love’s sake. Leaping into the lifeboat, certain of his own safety, he floats away. His last sight is the wreck of his ship in the near distance as he lets the alcohol take over his body, drifting off into a cold sleep. The honourable, he is no more.

The present.

Rummaging through his sack, his hand fumbles upon pieces of stale bread, a broken old bronze compass, a small piece of gold, and a small dirk - slightly rusted but still deadly and effective - until it encloses itself around a crumpled piece of parchment, stained with ink and the caramel colour of rum - a letter left unsent, a concealment of denial and remorse. Beyond him floats the remains of the lifeboat, seized from the hands of the innocent. He had selfishly saved himself only to arrive at deserted beaches of soft sand, without a hope for survival. Reaching up towards his head, he lightly touches the now fraying scarf. Her last words echo in his head:

“Remember, you have my heart.”

Unknowing of how authorities will react to his wicked demeanour and fearful of the results, he does not wish to burden her with his sins. Tilting his head back, finally untainted by alcohol, he lets his tears slide onto the parchment. Giving the letter one last kiss, he lays to rest as guilt consumes his entirety.

A few weeks later.

There is a knock on her door.

“Come in.”

An elderly maid silently enters the parlour and passes her a letter. Thanking the maid, she gently takes it and lays it in the palm of her hands. On the envelope is her name written in a fancy script in black ink, on the back, a red seal of wax from a ship company - the company for whom her fiancé works. Giddy with delight yet trembling with fear of the unknown, she slowly breaks open the seal, heart beating ever so soundly. A letter from the ship company could only mean two things, she knows. She prays for the better. Her lithe fingers slip underneath the envelope, ready to pull out the parchment that it contains, when her eyes catch glimpse of a small red spot in her garden. Springing out of her armchair, she rushes to the window. Temporarily forgetting about the letter, she beams at the sprouting of the first rose, as his voice echoes throughout the skies.

“When the roses bloom, I will return.”


Written by: Cynthia Y.